The Chicago Daily News and Its 1976 Predictions for Education

By Mark Walsh — July 09, 2014 3 min read
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The Wall Street Journal‘s special 125th anniversary section on Monday (my post here), which included predictions about the future of education, reminded me of something I had tucked away in a plastic bin somewhere in a closet at home.

After some digging around, I found what a relative of mine had saved: The 100th anniversary edition of the Chicago Daily News, published on Jan. 17, 1976.

The Daily News was a highly literate afternoon paper in the city where I grew up. For its anniversay edition, the paper asked experts to discuss, among other things, the future of education in Chicago. The discussion wasn’t so much pie-in-the-sky, decades-from-now predictions as it was a sober conversation about what needed to be done in the short term to improve Chicago’s long-troubled public schools. Many of the themes of that 1976 conversation could just as easily be the topic of discussion 10, 20, or nearly 40 years later.

One expert participating in the newspaper’s roundtable, “retired industrialist” Joseph L. Block, said the city’s newspapers should lead the citizenry in raising expectations for all students.

William C. Berry, a civil rights activist, noted during the discussion that while many of the city’s schools faced problems, “we can find little schools here and there in poor neighborhoods where the decorum is good, where kids are learning.”

Berry called for cleaning out the system “from top to bottom, beginning with the mayor, who [effectively] appoints the [school] board.” At the time, Richard J. Daley had been mayor of Chicago since 1955 and would die in office in December 1976.

Another expert in the Daily News’ discussion, Sister Ann Ida Gannon, a Roman Catholic nun and educator, wondered whether Chicago’s institutions of higher education might come together “to do some kind of thoughtful planning of the changes that are needed in urban education.”

“We are all turning out teachers, and they go out and get frustrated by the system,” Gannon said. “They know new methods, but they very often can’t use them. Setting up some experimental areas in the city with the universities in full control of the schools could prove a point over a period of time.”

Raymond W. Mack, a sociologist, said during the discussion that “we should put in competent principals who are removable if they turn out not to be competent.”

Berry observed that “we have to begin this project of educating children in the city of Chicago as we would any other project, and that is by determining our goals, which seem to me to be teaching kids how to read, write, figure, and become socialized—that is, become socialized human beings and learn how to get along with one another. Those should be the goals from top to bottom, from the mayor right down to the janitor in the school.”

Block said: “But everybody must be judged on performance.”

Berry: “Yes, judge them on that.”

Mack: “You mean everybody, not just the students.”

Block: “Everybody. I am talking particularly about the teachers and the principals.”

* * * *

Another story in the Daily News special section in 1976 made some particularly prescient predictions about another field—the newspaper business.

“Some day in the not-too-distant future your newspaper may not have any paper in it at all,” the story said. “It may be totally electronic.”

The story more or less outlined a future that we now know as Web journalism. “To get your copy of the Daily News, you turn on your television set, tune it to the proper cable-TV channel, and adjust the controls to choose the page you want.”

“The pages will be changed to accommodate developing stories, so you will always be able to read the most up-to-date news,” the story continued. “It will be the ultimate in personalized news delivery.”

At the time, the Daily News and its sister paper, the morning Chicago Sun-Times, were about to implement their first electronic editing system using Video Display Terminals (VDTs).

Sadly, though, while the Sun-Times is still around, the Daily News never made it to the Web era. It published its final edition on March 4, 1978, a victim of the rise of TV news and a general decline in afternoon dailies.

The Chicago public school system, meanwhile, is still in operation, with many of the same issues of performance and accountability that were discussed in that 1976 roundtable still swirling around it.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.